Improving Air Quality Reporting in London

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 11th June 2021.

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Photo of Leonie Cooper Leonie Cooper Labour

The recent Coroner’s report on preventing future deaths like tragic death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah states that there is low public awareness of air pollution levels and stated that ‘Greater awareness would help individuals reduce their personal exposure to air pollution.’1 How have you improved air quality reporting in London and how has this impacted upon the health and wellbeing of Londoners?

1 Judiciary.UK, ‘Regulation 28: Report to Prevent Further Deaths’, 20 April 2021

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Thank you. Ella Adoo‑Kissi‑Debrah’s death was a tragedy and we owe it to her family to do everything we can to improve London’s air quality. Since 2016, my policies have contributed to a 94% reduction in the number of Londoners living in areas exceeding legal nitrogen dioxide (NOx) pollution limits and are expected to avoid almost 300,000 new cases of air quality-related disease and over 1 million hospital admissions by 2050.

We need to go further and faster to protect the health of Londoners. I am supporting the family in getting a fresh inquest and I share the Coroner’s concerns and am committed to addressing them.

In my first term, I instituted London’s first alert system to warn Londoners about air pollution episodes. Alerts are displayed across the public transport and road networks, shared on social media and sent directly to schools and the London boroughs. The NHS, Public Health England (PHE) and the London Fire Brigade (LFB) are contacted via the London Resilience Forum to cascade to their networks. My officers are currently undertaking a review of the alert system, including message testing and exploring additional methods to increase its reach, especially to the most vulnerable Londoners.

London’s air quality is now constantly monitored at around 120 reference locations through the London Air Quality Network. To expand London’s monitoring capacity and make real-time information more widely available, in 2019 I piloted the Breathe London low-cost sensor network. This year, following the successful pilot, I have partnered with Bloomberg Philanthropies to fund 195 new sensors, which are being provided for free to hospitals, schools and community groups. Live data from all monitors in London are available through the Breathe London website and the London Air Quality Map, making it easier for Londoners to access reliable real-time and hyperlocal information.

Providing this information is important, but of course it is not enough on its own. That is why I will continue to implement bold policies to reduce air pollution and protect the health of Londoners, including expanding the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in October [2021].

Photo of Leonie Cooper Leonie Cooper Labour

Thank you very much for your answer, Mr Mayor. Can I join with the congratulations from everyone else? It is fantastic to see you achieve more than 1 million votes last time and again this time. Of course, it is fantastic to have someone from Tooting, in my constituency, doing that.

Just to follow up from what you were saying about air quality - and I have really appreciated the work that you have done over the last five years, I know a lot of other people have as well - we have an Environment Bill going through Parliament. You have been calling for a new Clean Air Act. There is a possibility that something could be included in there, maybe perhaps legally binding targets, so that the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines come into UK law. It is not just a London problem, is it?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Absolutely. It is worth reminding ourselves that the last time there was major legislation was in the 1950s. The concern many of us have is that if we have missed the opportunity to improve this Bill, it could be another 50, 60 or 70 years before we get another bite of the cherry.

You have been working closely with UK100. What we are trying to do is to use the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) and our cross-party working with civil society, civic groups, communities and so forth to really put some pressure on Parliament to make progress here. I had a call this week with other mayors; Mayor Andy Street from West Midlands is hoping to host in July [2021] a meeting in Birmingham, bringing together not just the metro mayors, but UK100 and also the relevant member of the Cabinet to make sure they understand what is on the table here, potentially, which is a ground-breaking Environment Bill that will lead to meaningful change or an opportunity missed. I hope it is the former rather than the latter.

Photo of Leonie Cooper Leonie Cooper Labour

I am going to cross my fingers on that, certainly. Particularly, we have found that there have been studies that have been done in the United States (US) now showing that the impact of particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5) has been disproportionate - in the same way that the pandemic was disproportionate - in terms of its impacts, particularly on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.

I do not know whether we have been looking into doing that kind of research in London. Is there any evidence of that? You just mentioned Birmingham, a city of very many diverse communities as well. It is so important.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

The short answer is yes. Some of the work that we have already done shows that the exposure experienced by poorer Londoners is far worse than that experienced by wealthier Londoners. Similarly, the exposure of BAME Londoners is far greater than for the other ethnic groups. For me, this is an issue of social justice. It is the poorest Londoners - who are often BAME - who are suffering the worst air quality and suffering the worst consequences, from children having stunted lungs forever to adults with a whole host of health issues like asthma, cancer, dementia and heart disease. That is why it is really important we address this in a comprehensive way. The research in the US confirms what we know in London, which is that this is an issue of social justice.

Photo of Leonie Cooper Leonie Cooper Labour

Social justice and environmental justice. Thank you very much, Mr Mayor, for your answers.